QSC Aspiring Interview: Rachel Bochner on mental health and new music

New York’s Rachel Bochner is a Gen-Z pop artist who could not wear her heart more proudly on her sleeve if she tried. With songs like Be Happier and Ghosted My Therapist, she keeps the mental health conversation open, while somehow also delivering absolute bops. She chats to Headliner about why bouncy castles and cotton candy felt appropriate for the video of her new single If I’m Gonna Be Sad (I Might As Well Look Hot Doing It), and why we should all get very excited for the upcoming EP it’s teasing.

Describing her music as “the soundtrack to the coming of age movie you wish you were the main character of,” Bochner’s first experience of the music industry was interning for a record label, at one point seeing that as her path. But thankfully, she crossed over to releasing her progressive indie-pop music during the first lockdown of 2020. Diligently releasing single after single, we now have a bona fide rising star three years later.

Rising star she may be, that doesn’t change the fact that New York is a very, very expensive city to live in for musicians, or anyone who wasn’t born into wealth, for that matter. “I am definitely finding that it’s hard to live in New York because it’s so expensive,” Bochner says (she’s originally from the much leafier Richmond, Virginia). “But you make it work, you do all of your side hustles and figure it out. I love New York, I love the energy that it has and the people that I've met while living here. So I’ll do everything in my power to be able to stay here.”

On growing up with music always around her, she says, “I grew up with four sisters. We loved putting on shows and singing along to our favourite Disney movies and all that. I was especially the one to be humming and singing alone in my room and disrupting everybody's homework.”

Something that helped Bochner no end with musical performance was “musical theatre, which I loved. I think that’s when I realised I loved being on stage. It was a great way to dip my toes into being in front of people and putting myself out there. I also loved going to see Broadway shows; we lived close enough to be able to do that on a whim. So seeing these amazingly talented people performing on stage, that was really inspiring for me.”

Bochner’s music is certainly reflective of the pop music soundscape that has been forever changed by Billie Eilish — a vocal delivery that’s both soft and blunt at the same time, unapologetically direct lyrics, and a deft combination of instrumentation and pop electronics. That’s not to say she’s any kind of an Eilish copy-and-paste job; her lyrics and song content are both vital and unique, an impressive voice both in terms of singing and what she is bringing to the table with her songwriting.

Bochner agrees that pop music continues to be in a very exciting place. The advent of social media and streaming has, in one positive at least, meant that pop music is no longer a tiny circle of major label acts like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. You only need to look at the careers of Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX as examples of pop artists who regularly tour and have dedicated fan bases, but aren’t necessarily topping the mainstream charts.

Songwriting became an outlet for the things I couldn’t articulate to the people around me.

“When people ask what music I make, I do say pop music,” Bochner says. “I’m not ashamed of that. I do listen to so much different music and a lot of alternative music, but I am a pop girl at my core. In the last handful of years you can go in quite a few directions and still be under the umbrella of pop. I’ve tried out more acoustic pop, electro-pop and my new EP is leaning towards pop-rock. I have always loved Taylor Swift, and I’ve been a huge Lana Del Rey fan since her first album and after I saw her infamous SNL performance. I’m really excited for the new Baby Queen album that’s coming out, and the Maisie Peters album that just came out is so good.”

Bochner had started writing and co-producing her solo material prior to 2020, but it just so happened that her debut single release, Purple, coincided with the first pandemic lockdown. This trial by fire saw her first release strategy being completely digital, which of course has its pros and cons.

“We wrote Purple the weekend before lockdown,” she recalls. “We knew COVID was a thing, but it wasn't impacting travel in New York yet. Sasha Campbell and Nick Blaze, who I write with a lot, came to visit me, and we went to Baby Boy Blue’s studio in New Jersey. We wrote the song and basically finished it in one day. And then a couple of days later, everything was shut down. So that was our last taste of freedom! So the entire promotion for the song was online, but we did make the song together in person.”

Mental health forms a very central theme in Bochner’s lyrics, but what is interesting about her own approach to tackling this very personal but equally vital subject is that she is very direct with her lyrics — in years gone by, musicians might reveal their darkest feelings by wrapping them up in metaphors and double meanings. Not Bochner. With song titles like Ghosted My Therapist and Drunk Crier, she lyrically wears her heart on her sleeve.

“It’s funny because when I’m talking to a friend or even my therapist, I find it hard to name what I’m feeling or going through,” she says, with more earnest honesty. “But when it comes to writing a song about it, I find it much easier to express myself that way. Songwriting became an outlet for the things I couldn’t articulate to the people around me. I think that’s why I’m so blunt in my writing. As much as I love a metaphor or a visual line, this approach is what I need as an outlet for my emotions and feelings.”

It’s fairly logical then, that Bochner generally feels very positive about mental health becoming a much more open discussion in both public and this relatively new openness in artist’s lyrics. “Obviously the conversation is really important. And it feels so valuable to me to put out music that makes people feel represented and validated. It’s not a case of me releasing a song and saying, ‘Here’s the issue and here’s how to fix it.’ I think it’s being able to relate to lyrics and the comfort in knowing you’re not alone. I think that is so meaningful for people.”

As we gear up for her new EP, Bochner has hit us with three fantastic singles: Sucker Punch, If I’m Gonna Look Sad (I Might As Well Look Hot Doing It), and Here For The Drama. The second of those marked her second single release with a gloriously over-the-top music video that features co-writer Tiger Darrow. The pair get to live their very best lives in the video, at various points surrounded by a mountain of cotton candy and enjoying a bouncy castle.

“I accidentally fell into directing and editing the video,” she says. “When I’m writing songs, my mind can’t help but wander to the visual side. I originally had this concept with a mechanical bull, but I couldn’t find a bar with one that either existed or would let us film there within a 300-mile radius of New York! I didn’t have an Ariana Grande budget, so we had to make something else work, and I had the thought of a bouncy castle. We had a small crew of my friends, it was so fun to film and stupid in the best way.”

The song, like the video, is a wonderful and relatable contradiction in that it’s an upbeat bop that will get your head nodding, despite the fact Bochner is singing about feeling sad. It’s a medium she’s mastering before our eyes, as also evidenced on the latest single, Here For The Drama, which opens with a high school movie-esque combination of guitar riff and a group vocals. As she’s singing about things falling apart, the verses and choruses have no right to be as anthemic and catchy as they are.

Similarly, first single Sucker Punch plays out as a breakup revenge song, but does so without any moroseness or self-importance. As she sings, “Want you to waste a couple years on thinkin' I'm the one / Just to wind you up / For the sucker punch”, but the groove of the driving synths and drums keeps the track tongue in cheek rather than sinister.

In case you’re somehow still not convinced on checking out her six-track EP that releases this August, here is Bochner’s last word on her latest body of work: “I just announced the last single. It's called Hard To Please, and then the EP will be coming out on August 11. Then there will be two brand new songs that drop with the EP. I love all of these songs! I can’t wait for them all to be out.”

Listen to the full interview with Rachel Bochner on Headliner Radio, here:

IMAGES: Carina Allen